Nick here (AKA Beer Nerd Boyfriend), writing my first ever blog post, on request from your Beer Intern!
Val asked me to write this because a few weeks ago, on March 22nd, I attended Boston’s Extreme Beer Fest (EBF). EBF is a gathering of breweries from around the US (and one Canadian representative) that celebrates all the joy that can be had making beers from unusual ingredients or using odd methods. Breweries are told to bring only beers that step outside the norm, and they wholly embrace it!
When I first found out about this festival last year, it was only a week or two before the event and tickets had reached an eBay price of over $300 each. I was tempted, but much as I love weird beer, I couldn’t justify that cost even if all the pours are included. So when tickets went on sale for this year’s event, my brewing partner Justin and I were on Beer Advocate hitting refresh like nobody’s business.
We left on Friday, and had to stop at a couple breweries along the way: Hill Farmstead in Vermont and Earth Eagle Brewings in New Hampshire. I’d HEAVILY recommend Earth Eagle if you happen to be around Portsmouth. They specialize in gruits, Medieval-style ales that are brewed with a variety of herbs instead of hops. Earth Eagle just so happen to be experts – even better, they make some of their gruits using meat!
EBF was held in two sessions, and since we’d signed up for the evening one, we had plenty of time to hit two more Boston-based breweries: Mystic and Idle Hands. We even had time to grab some local seafood and camp out in the coffee shop next door to the seaport while watching hilariously drunk people stumble out of the afternoon session of EBF. It seems many people were wisely following the advice of one shirt:
We got in line a full hour before our session started, and five minutes later, we knew we had made the right call.
Now, as a group of four, we tasted about 85 beers. In three hours. Towards the end of the festival our records became somewhat… unreliable. Therefore, I’ll be limiting myself to only the beers that truly stood out and I still can’t stop thinking about.
Once six o’clock hit, we were all but running through the doors and towards the beers, many of which will be found nowhere but at the breweries themselves, or online at over 80 bucks a bottle.
Speaking of 80 bucks a bottle online, we quickly ran towards the Founder’s tent because they were pouring the ever-elusive CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout). This beer is extremely rare and highly sought after for good reason, we quickly discovered. The rarity I must assume is due to the extreme lengths the brewery goes to in order to produce it. Founder’s Brewing uses their Breakfast Stout (8.3%) as a base, made with two types each of chocolate and coffee. They then one-up themselves by sourcing spent bourbon barrels, shipping them off to a Michigan maple farm, and having the farm soak the barrels with maple syrup for a few months. After this, the barrels get sent to the brewery, and the Breakfast Stout is aged in these maple soaked bourbon beauties! CBS is a heavy beer, and don’t get me wrong, it is INTENSELY rich and creamy on the palate, with only mild carbonation even when served on tap. It smells and tastes like maple bacon with mocha. It is 10.6%, but the alcohol takes a back seat to the rich malty tones, and all that mapley goodness!
With that in mind, I must bring up another of Founder’s offerings: the Blushing Monk. A raspberry fermented Belgian style strong ale, which according to Founder’s includes “a ridiculous amount of raspberries” and finishes at 9.2% ABV. On the nose, you are accosted by a very strong cherry-raspberry presence, which carries some sweetness but is also slightly tart. The Blushing Monk tastes of cherry-raspberry-cranberry-strawberry juice with some tartness on the back end. It’s a sweet beer, but by no means in an overbearing fashion.
The next brewery we came across that got the beer geek inside me giddy was Virginia’s Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. We tried all four of their offerings, but two really stood out: their Gingerbread Stout and The Great Return With Pineapple. The Gingerbread Stout was a milk stout, so I was expecting to have my mouth swept away by a sea of creamy richness with only hints of gingerbread. Instead, I was taken aback by the aroma of several bready type malts, some biscuits, a little ginger, caramel and toffee. Flavor: Gingerbread. Could not have been more on point with that, and hard to believe it clocked in at 9.2%!
The Great Return With Pineapple is a modified version of Hardywood’s Great Return west coast style IPA, with, you guessed it, pineapple! The pineapple really came through quite strongly, accenting the almost aggressive underlying grapefruit of this hop bomb of an IPA. It did cut the bitterness nicely and turned it into a juicy, almost sessionable (as much as it could be at 7.5%) IPA. The nose was almost exactly of overripe, sweet pineapple, drawing you into the glass. Hardywood’s two other beers were a bourbon barrel aged Sidamo coffee stout, and a Sorachi Ace dry hopped pilsner (the latter of which tasted EXACTLY like fruit loops).
Immediately next on our tour of the festival was the Smuttlabs table, Smuttynose’s small batch project. Their Shebang “triple” IPA was a HUGE hop bomb, employing 6 pounds per barrel (an absolutely insane amount) of hops. It really shows throughout, with tastes of piney, sticky resin and a little bit of tropical stuff on the back end, countered with a massive (10.5%) malt body and alcohol presence towards the finish.
Smuttlabs was also pouring the Ol’ Grundy Humper American style barleywine aged on oak chips. It had lots of caramel, toffee, molasses and huge bready notes throughout. At 10.8%, it wasn’t cloyingly sweet or pungently alcoholic. Sidenote: “Grundy” is a term created by American brewers to describe the English style cellaring/serving tanks. In the States, they are typically used for serving carbonated beer on tap, but are frequently used otherwise. Smuttlabs also had the great pleasure of working with the most photogenic tapman in history.
I haven’t even touched on the INSANE beers yet… but we’ll leave that for tomorrow’s post! There are just so many beers, and so little time.
Talk to you later guys! It’s time for a pint!